Saturday, November 11, 2017

An interruption or an invitation to dance?

Yesterday I was singing at a nursing home with a group with Alzheimer's. At one point, a woman got up and wandered into the administrator's office. Instead of this being treated like an interruption, the staff member got up and began to dance with her. They held hands and laughed and danced to my songs while the rest cheered for the dancing woman. She was so delighted with herself. I was really impressed with how this "interruption" turned into a joyful moment for all of us.

So the next time you get "interrupted" - might you dance? As I type my cat is staring for her snack. Yes, a dance with my cat is in store :)

The photo here was taken at the Paris Apothecary in a class I took today on starting a nature journal. It was a beautiful place! The class was held in the church next door to the apothecary. 

It was a brisk day outside sketching and painting with watercolors. Here are our sketches:

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Pocket of Peace

Once a month I play my guitar in the lobby at the gym where I go.  The idea is that going to the gym is "me" time. A place to decompress and unwind. I play in a seated area where members sit and read or wait for an appointment.  I am in the background but I also get to meet many people who come and talk to me and tell me how much they appreciate the music.

The other night, during my usual playing time I was suddenly surprised by very loud, rowdy music blasting from the other room. At first I could not figure out where the sound was coming from and I asked the woman on the couch, "Do you hear that music??" She smiled and said, "Yes it is from a beautiful woman playing the guitar." Then as the loud music continued, she realized what I was talking about.  It was from a new cycling class going on and I had another 45 minutes left to play in the lobby. What to do?!!

As someone with a severe hearing loss, loud music can be very debilitating to me. I wear a cochlear implant (bionic ear) and I am not someone who can just "tune out" or ignore any noise. All sounds in a room appear of equal importance to my brain.  Unlike many who can walk right by a leaf blower or floor buffer or vacuum cleaner and not flinch. Recently, someone said to me, "A noisy environment to you is a threatening environment. " Wow- did that hit home!  I was so glad for this insight because it made me see how much I become tense and even give myself a bad headache.

So here I was in what the old me would have considered a "threatening environment" -- the loud bass booming from the next room, the electric guitars blaring, the fast beating drums threatening to speed up my heart rate.  I stopped playing and went into the women's locker room to think of what to do. Should I tell them I can't continue? Then it came to me. No. I will not let the outside world dictate how I feel. I will remain calm and offer a pocket of peace amidst the loud noise of the world. We are living in harsh, frazzled times. I don't want to be a part of that rat race.

I went back to the lobby and took up my guitar and focused on the peace that the music I play makes me feel.  While I was distracted at times by the noise, I remained determined not to let it throw me off.

It was a good lesson for me and speaking of peace- the above photo I took is from the view at a nursing home where I play twice a month.  This view I love and it is views like these I keep amidst the ugliness we sometimes have around me.

Wishing you a peaceful and quiet day!

Monday, October 16, 2017

What can happen when nothing is planned

It's amazing what can happen when plans fall away. Yesterday at the nursing home where I work, one of the residents wanted me to bring my guitar to hear room to sing. It turned out that I had forgotten to bring my guitar to work but I said we could sing without the guitar. She seemed skeptical about this idea but as we found out, I think it allowed more to happen.

When I came to her room for our music session, I suggested we could sing her favorite song, "Amazing Grace." I wasn't sure if she would do it without the guitar. Sometimes I think having a guitar is like a prop that allows people to open up more. Without it, there is no room to hide.

So when she started to sing with such conviction and gusto - I joined her and we had a great time. After we finished singing "Amazing Grace," she told me she had a CD of her favorite songs. It took some time to get the CD player working but once we did,  I loved listening with her.

We sang along to, "You Are My Sunshine," "I'll Fly Away," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken, " and others. Listening to the CD together brought back such fond memories of  when I was in high school and friends and I would spend a whole afternoon listening to albums. This was the thing to do! A friend would call and say, "I just got a new Jimi Hendrix album" and I'd say, "I'll be right over." and we'd listen to that album over and over again.

Do people listen to music together like that anymore? I loved how LPs (stands for "long playing" records) were a series of songs that told a story. LPs like Moody Blues, "Days of Future Passed," Carole King's, "Tapestry, " Stevie Wonder's, "Talking Book." The A side was one part of the story and the B side another. I loved spending time thinking about what the overall message was. Many LPs then had a theme. Now I feel that CDs are more of a collection of separate songs by an artist, rather than a connecting story.

Anyway, this was a great memory for me and I loved that the fact that I forgot my guitar led to an even more interesting and fun music session with Mrs. G__. I learned more about the kind of music she likes for next time when I do bring my guitar.

Today's photo is of a fall image that I love. I love the leaves and pine cones and colors all around me.
How are you doing out there? Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Heart and Soul

Sometimes I am surprised by their openness to me. It is as if having my guitar in hand is like having a key to their secret garden they let me into. We enter into a very private place together as we share important memories from the soundtrack of their lives. 

I'm thinking of Thelma (not her real name) and how she transformed from a appearing to be very quiet and untrusting to completely open and singing with the most heart felt abandon.  When I saw a picture of Jesus on her wall, I decided to sing, "Amazing Grace" and she said it was her favorite song. She sang loudly and with the conviction of a professional singer even though she insisted after I complimented her, "I can't sing, I just love music!." Her love for music was so apparent. She went from being listless and detached when I entered the room to vibrant and joyous as we sang through some of her favorite songs. 

Next I visited Johnny who was  having a birthday. He seemed a little down (I suppose being in a nursing home is not the most uplifting place to be on one's birthday) and he mentioned he liked "dark" music. I immediately thought of the song, "House of the Rising Sun." As soon as I started to sing this, I could see the song struck a deep chord inside him. He closed his eyes and swayed to the music. He had an expression of being in a  very deep and private place. It led us to a conversation about how life can change for some people by being in the wrong place at the wrong time or hanging out with the wrong crowd. (which is what "House of the Rising Sun" is about). He was so open and vulnerable with me that it was such a privilege to feel he trusted me as he would a close friend, even though I had just met him. 

Last night I had another very uplifting session with Shirley, an elderly woman with dementia. I have known her now for over 4 years and only recently she started opening up to me.  When I started to see songs that she recognized and hummed along with, I made a point to play more from the same genre and era in hopes to connect more with her. It turns out we spent nearly one hour with me playing the guitar and her singing along songs from, "Clementine," "Over the Rainbow," "You Are My Sunshine," and her favorite one that made her laugh was, "Heart and Soul." Many of you would not recognize the lyrics but if you ever took piano lessons, this would be very familiar to you. Shirley loved this song so much we must have sang and played it over a dozen times. This is amazing to me because if I talk to her, she will look down and will not engage. When she is not sitting down, she roams the halls looking down and rarely speaks or engages with anyone. But last night she sang and laughed and her whole demeanor was so light and happy. I cannot stop thinking of her and the fun we had together. I got up this morning and wrote down the melodies to 7 more songs to play for her next time. 

Music is so much more than "entertainment." It is a powerfully healing and connecting force. It is a bridge to bring back joy to those who lives seem devoid of it most of the time. It is my work and I love it. Thank you for reading!  

The picture above is one I took at the park nearby while I stood in a butterfly bush snapping away. It can be hard to photograph a butterfly because they are never still very long. How fitting, I think, as happiness can also be something that does not stay if you try to catch it. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Here Comes the Sun and I say, "It's alright!"

This past month I have been doing more traveling around Virginia to other assisted living centers. As a result, I have met a lot of new people and seen a lot of very beautiful new sights. Pictured above is a scene I pulled off the road to capture in Bedford county (90 miles outside of Charlottesville). The place I went to was located a few miles off a dirt road way up on a hill. Since I live in the city, it is such a treat for me to experience this beauty.

Yesterday was a special music session for me. I was playing at a nursing home in the skilled nursing area where there are people there for rehab. Many of them are there for just a few weeks or months. This means that I meet people in what could be one of their darkest times. They are away from home for an extended and sometimes unkown period of time and forced to live among strangers.

When I asked the group if there were any who were having a birthday soon to sing to them, a woman I've never seen there before spoke up. She was seated in a wheelchair and both of her legs were bandaged. In other places where the bandages did not cover, there were open wounds and she looked to be in a lot of discomfort. As soon as she began to talk, she started to cry. "It is my birthday next week and it's going to be the worst birthday I've ever had."  She apologized as she continued to cry but I assured her I understood and it was good to cry, that is how we heal.

We started talking then and sharing about music and she said she always loved The Beatles. I got the idea then to play for her their song, "Here Comes the Sun."  I first played it as an instrumental without the lyrics and I could see the woman listening and as she stopped crying. Then when I sang,

"Here comes the sun, little darling
here comes the sun and I say
It's alright...."

Her eyes lit up and she smiled and started to sing along with me.

"Little darling, it's been a long, cold lonely winter
little darling, it seems like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun... "

I could see this song struck a comforting chord with her and this led to a series of other songs that helped to uplift her spirits. We sang, "Stand by Me"

"If the sky you look upon, should crumble and fall
and the mountains should tumble to the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry
no I won't shed a tear
just as long as you stand, stand by me. "

We sang, "My Girl."

"I've got sunshine, on a cloudy day... "

By the time I left, the woman who was crying in despair was laughing and joyful. Music can do that. It can ease our burdens and remind us that there is still beauty and hope and joy. The world is still a beautiful place. It was a gift to me to be with her in her time of need. We've all been there and I was glad that the songs gave us a chance to share some hopeful moments. Peace to you all and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

When wanderers awaken

The other night I had an extraordinary experience as I was playing calming music for residents in a nursing home. The ones I play for have dementia and early evening after dinner can be a time of confusion for them. I usually sit playing my guitar as they drift off in their chairs while the nurses tend to their nightly meds.

There is one woman who is always pacing the halls. She usually looks down and never makes eye contact with me. In the 4 years I have gone there, she has never spoken or acknowledged the music. The other night, all of this changed.

It was while I was playing, "Over the Rainbow" when this same woman who paced and never spoke began to sing along. She smiled as she sang softly and she seemed so happy. She came over by me and said, "That is so beautiful! You are really, really good!"  While I had her attention, I played some others I thought she would know. Elvis was a big hit too. I played, "Can't Help Falling In Love, " and "Love me Tender" while she hummed along. She also loved, "Moon River," and "Unchained Melody," and "Edleweiss." She stood right next to me and hummed and laughed and kept telling me how much she loved it.

I was amazed to see this woman who I only saw wander in silence come to life. The joy in her face sparked memories of happy times and brought her out of her shell. Now I am motivated to learn more songs of the same genre and era to see how she responds next time.

The photo above was taken at the VSA (therapeutic parks and recreation) concert last April. Photo credit goes to Norman Carter. I like how I look like I am laughing to myself. I do remember it was a very good concert and such happiness was in the room that day. I'm glad Norm caught me feeling that way. It's how I feel when I play the guitar! Thanks for coming by and reading.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

You're Here Not By Chance

Every Wednesday night I go down the street to sing for some nursing home residents.  I find them all sitting in the hallway after dinner. I  have my guitar strapped on as I stroll the up and down the hall singing to them all.  I've been going there now for 7 years. Over the years I have seen many residents come and go (they are all quite ill by the time they take up residence here).  Most of the staff has been there longer than me but I've also seen a lot of them come and go too.

Even so, there have been times when my presence there seemed to go unnoticed. A Wednesday would come and I'd make my rounds seemingly invisible and go back home. At times when I'd be away or missed due to being sick, no one ever remarked on my absence.

All of this changed recently, however.  For I had missed a week due to not feeling well and one of the nurses came up and said, "Where were you last week? They were all waiting for you." Hm. I had never felt that way there before, seemed no one noticed me much. But it was true.

Last night I showed up and a man was waiting by the door. As soon as I got close enough, he punched in the code to unlock the door.  I thought he was going somewhere and asked, "Where are you off to?" But he said he was waiting for to help me in and that everyone was lined up to hear me.

Sure enough, they were. All 15 or so of them were lined up outside of the nursing station waiting for the music. As soon as I started singing, one of the nurses came and started singing and dancing and conducting along with me. The residents smiled and seemed to really enjoy it.

The above picture is something one of them took out of their purses and asked me to read. You can see it is very old and tattered and wrapped in plastic for safe keeping. I was touched by her saving this and feeling so much a part of their lives there.

 I was wrong that I was not noticed. Jt may be true that some people due to illness are unable to show or acknowledge what I bring but they do notice. It's good to be reminded of that at times.